A 30-metre cellphone tower planned for a North Kildonan cemetery is facing pushback from area residents who call the proposed pillar a dangerous eyesore.

A 30-metre cellphone tower planned for a North Kildonan cemetery is facing pushback from area residents who call the proposed pillar a dangerous eyesore.

Deanna Fair has lived in the Winnipeg neighbourhood her whole life and currently resides on the edge of St. Mary’s Cemetery. When she received the notice of public information announcing the Bell MTS plan, she immediately shared her concerns with the telecom company and the City of Winnipeg.

<p>A pathway in St. Mary’s Cemetery where a cellphone tower might be installed. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

A pathway in St. Mary’s Cemetery where a cellphone tower might be installed. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

The mother of two young children said she’s worried about her family’s close proximity to the tower. While the city has a set safety code for building antenna systems, the idea of constant close contact with a cell tower was concerning, Fair said.

"As a mother, that is a concern for me, having my children in the house being exposed to the radio frequency coming off the tower for long periods of time while being in the house, playing in our backyard, all of those things," she said. "I think any parent would feel that way for sure."

Fair points out the tower is set to be placed in a residential area — she called the planned 360 McIvor Ave. location "the heart of North Kildonan" — something the city generally discourages in its antenna systems policy.

The size of the shrouded tower will block sunlight for some residents at some points in the day, and it would sit in between Chornick Park and Bunn’s Creek Centennial Park, both used for year-round recreation and home to wildlife, Fair said.

A petition opposing the cellphone tower started by Fair has received 340 signatures so far — but only around a dozen people were actually asked to be consulted on the project, as per city rules that require anyone within 90 metres to be contacted.

The proposed placement in a cemetery has also been criticized by some opponents as "desecrating" the space. However, Father Bob Kay, who serves as the administrator of St. Mary’s Parish which owns the cemetery, said the church "did their due diligence" in agreeing to be host site of the tower.

Should it go ahead as planned, Kay said it would be a "joint venture," where Bell MTS would pay a regular fee to use the space.

The timeline for the project implies final approval is months away.

Residents were asked to provide comments after an information session March 31. Bell MTS is required to respond to "all reasonable and relevant" concerns within 60 days. After that, residents will get another three weeks to respond to these concerns before a summary of the consultation is handed to the city’s planning, property and development department for approval.

Antenna tower projects must also be approved at the federal level by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.

Kildonan—River East MLA Cathy Cox published a letter opposing the tower’s construction March 31, saying she had "observed over time how these sites become dilapidated and over time end up becoming an eyesore for our neighbourhood."

Cox suggested it be moved to a more industrial area.

"I ask you to oppose this proposal and request that city council vote in opposition to this proposal. My office has received much opposition to the establishment of a cell tower at this proposed location that would ruin the aesthetics of our neighbourhood," the Tory MLA wrote.

However, it’s not up to city council to oppose it, said Coun. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan).

Such towers have been proven to be safe for placement in close proximity to people, he said, adding his office has heard complaints from constituents about poor cell service in the area.

"It’s not so much that I support this particular antenna, I support the belief that we do need improved coverage in the area. Could it be done somewhere else? Maybe. Could it be done with two or three smaller towers? Potentially," Browaty said.

But the suggestion to place it in a more industrial area wouldn’t address the current gap in service, Browaty said, adding he believed Bell MTS had worked in good faith to pick the right place.

"The distance between Henderson Highway and Lagimodiere Boulevard, and any other light industrial area, does not exist that would properly provide coverage to a large chunk of North Kildonan."

Browaty said there was a prior attempt by Bell MTS to set up a tower on city-owned property, including Gateway Recreation Centre and Bunn’s Creek Centennial Park — both of which were eventually turned down by the city.

Should the plan proceed, the tower is set to be in service by 2024.

malak.abas@freepress.mb.ca

Malak Abas

Malak Abas
Reporter

Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.